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Wave Exposure Structures Oyster Distribution on Natural Intertidal Reefs, But Not on Hardened Shorelines

Abstract

Intertidal oyster reefs can protect estuarine shorelines from wave erosion and sea-level rise, and recognition of these ecosystem services has fueled global efforts to conserve and restore these reefs. Although intertidal oyster reefs are valued for attenuating wave erosion, little attention has been paid to the effects of wave exposure on their distribution. The present study characterized the role of wave exposure in determining the distribution of natural intertidal oyster reefs and of oysters on hardened shorelines (bulkhead and riprap revetments). Wave exposure was determined using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)-developed Wave Exposure Model (WEMo), which integrates adjacent water depth, fetch, and processed wind information, among other variables. Field mapping of oyster reefs, defined as ≥10 oysters m−2, in Pamlico and Core sounds, North Carolina, USA, was conducted in summer 2014. Hardened shorelines and associated oyster densities were mapped for Pamlico Sound only. A narrow wave exposure threshold (~500 J m−1) was identified above which natural intertidal reefs did not occur and below which reef presence was apparently dependent on other structuring variables, such as salinity at the time of sampling and the grain size of surrounding sediments. Wave exposure was not correlated with the presence of oysters on hardened shorelines. The application of WEMo in the present study should be useful for selecting locations and materials for intertidal oyster reef restoration.

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Acknowledgments

We thank S. Brown, J. Byrum, O. Caretti, A. Edwards, B. Griffin, R. Lyon, D. McVeigh, O. Phillips, K. Simmons, and R. Ward for their assistance with field collections. We thank the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that improved the manuscript. Funding for the project and completion of the manuscript was provided by North Carolina Sea Grant (R12-HCE-2) and the National Science Foundation (OCE-1155609) to D. Eggleston, as well as a US Department of Defense (Office of Naval Research) National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, North Carolina Coastal Conservation Association Scholarship, and Beneath the Sea Foundation Scholarship to S. Theuerkauf.

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Correspondence to Seth J. Theuerkauf.

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Communicated by Judy Grassle

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Theuerkauf, S.J., Eggleston, D.B., Puckett, B.J. et al. Wave Exposure Structures Oyster Distribution on Natural Intertidal Reefs, But Not on Hardened Shorelines. Estuaries and Coasts 40, 376–386 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-016-0153-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-016-0153-6

Keywords

  • Wave exposure
  • Living shorelines
  • Intertidal
  • Restoration
  • Hardened shorelines
  • Crassostrea virginica